Neighbors helped neighbors in the aftermath of the pre-Christmas ice storm in Washington County, Maine, and Charlotte County, New Brunswick, and utility linemen are heroes in many people's eyes, as many left their own families during the holiday to restore power.
Sunshine and milder temperatures on Monday, December 30, were welcome conditions for Emera Maine crews who continued their efforts to restore service to many people who lost power for a week or more because of the ice storm on December 21 and 22.
Maine Governor Paul LePage thanked Emera Maine, Central Maine Power and Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative for their hard work and dedication in restoring power. LePage said, "Our Maine line and tree crews, as well as crews from at least six states and two Canadian provinces, left their families home at Christmas time to work long hours in the cold to support Maine people. This is a gift we're all grateful for [as well as] volunteers. State agency representatives and county and local officials who have been working throughout the storm response have done tremendous work. We don't get through these emergencies without hundreds of volunteers."
The governor encourages the public to donate to the Maine Relief Fund at <volunteermaine.org/disaster> and follow the link to Maine Disaster Relief Fund.
"Mainers are used to weathering storms," sums up LePage. "And while this one was not as destructive as the ice storm of '98, it was a storm that left its mark."
Neighbors take care of each other
Wayne and Renee Leavitt of Robbinston were at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston when the ice storm hit. He has been battling lung disease and is waiting for a double lung transplant. A Facebook query from Renee asking how much snow was on her roof resulted in a New Year's Day visit by Phil Diffin and Steve Ftorek to the Leavitts' Sweeney Road residence, where they spent two hours clearing the roof of ice.
"They spent another five hours at the house today," reported Steve's wife, Tessa, on January 2. "Renee's brother, Bill Warren, has helped, and I know Amy Avery was inside taking care of the house and the dog."
"That's what's so special about small towns," points out Tessa. "Even though people might not hang out together, they want to help their neighbors."
A taste of pioneer life
Joanne McMahon of Cooper lost her heat and plumbing yet still helped make the holiday party at the community center happen. "I had all the decorations for it, and it had been postponed twice because of the weather," she explains. "And I'm on the planning committee."
When she first lost her telephone service, McMahon walked three-quarters of a mile to her nearest neighbors, who made McMahon hot soup, drove her home and "brought a big plastic tub to take my dirty dishes, and the cat's dishes, back to her house to wash. And after that, she'd regularly bring me a gallon of water from Walmart and see how I was doing."
"And when they see my driveway all snowed up, two men always plow it out for me. I don't even know who they are," she adds. "One man shovelled out my long path and left without stopping."
She has nothing but praise for Fire Chief Trevor Flood and the local volunteer fire department. "They work really hard on emergency preparedness, and they came around to all the houses. They bought me a small propane heater, but they don't give off much heat, so I bundled in seven layers of clothes and a down blanket to keep warm. The firemen came back every day. I usually shovel my own paths, but they did it for me and brought in water for my chickens in my chicken coop. They cut down a tree that had fallen in my path and when the propane in the heater ran out, they filled it."
"They invited me over to the community center," she adds. "It had generators to keep the furnace and water running. I didn't go, but I'm very much impressed with the fire department."
McMahon says of her situation, "Unfortunately, without heat, my plumbing froze up and the pipes split." She adds, "So now I need new plumbing, but it can't be done until spring."
"I try to keep in mind the pioneers. While I can get gallon jugs of water, they couldn't," she chuckles.
Thankful for those who helped
Pastor Lori Lynch of Pembroke says the ice storm caused church services to be cancelled at her United Methodist churches in Pembroke and North Perry, and her home was without power from Sunday, December 22, until Thursday, December 26. "It was really cold," she reports. "We had a little kerosene heater, and we could see our breath. We had to haul water from the spring down the road from us. One good thing is that you stayed busy from when you got up until you went to bed at night. And we did have cell phone service. We'd start up the car and charge it on the car battery."
Even though the power hadn't been restored by Christmas Eve, Lynch thought it was "crucial" to hold the planned services at her two churches. "We were a little late getting started, but we did it," she chuckles.
"And we are so thankful in our family for the folks in our congregations that helped us out," she adds. "They let us use their showers and shared Christmas dinner with us. That was really quite a break from the challenge of no electricity."
"While this was going on, people were diligently working on the lines, trying to restore power," says Lynch of the electric company linemen. "They worked on Christmas and brought light and warmth back with us."
"As challenging as it was, I'm thankful for the experience. It's important to know what it's like all over the world where people don't have electricity," she adds. "And when I went to Calais on December 23 to do Christmas shopping, I've noticed how calm everybody seemed to be in dealing with power outages. I felt encouraged by that."
Dennys River Fire Chief Sammy Seavey says after the ice storm hit on December 22 "we checked everybody who didn't have power. Most people did okay. They had generators and were pretty well prepared."
"A few needed drinking water, and we ran power to one house for four days for heat," he reports. "There was a lady on Smith Ridge Road whose line went through the woods, so she was the last one to get power back."
Seavey praises Coastal Plumbing and Heating and Scott Gove "for going around hooking people up. That was great."
Seavey lives on The Lane and says, "I only lost power for two days, but King Street, which usually has power, lost it for three or four days this time."
Preparing for the next storm
Fire Chief Paula Frost of the Perry Fire Department says that during the outage "we weren't invaded by calls from the elderly. People who were here for the ice storm in '98 bought generators."
She urges everyone, "regardless of age," to have an emergency plan in place for when they lose heat, lights and water. "The school has a generator, but that's only for heat." She urges people to go on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website <www.fema.gov> or the Maine Emergency Management Agency website <www.maine.gov/mema/response/mema_response_plans.shtml> to see how to put together an emergency plan.
"People should have cash handy, as well as medication, food and one gallon of water a day for each person in the house. If the power is out for three days and there are four people living together, that's 16 gallons of water minimum."
"I know it costs money, but people have to take responsibility for their welfare. We still have holdouts who call 911 when they lose power," she adds. "Have a plan. And have a back-up plan."
St. Stephen area hit hard
Greater St. Stephen was one of the areas hardest hit by the power outages caused by the December 21 and 22 ice storm. New Brunswick Power crews were assisted by contractors from the province and crews from Nova Scotia Power, Maritime Electric, Saint John Energy, Edmundston Energy and the North Atlantic Mutual Assistance Group of New England. As of January 3, crews had restored power to 170,000 customers. Nearly 4,500 kilometres of primary power lines, or about 24% of the utility's transmission and distribution system, were damaged by the storms.
"This has been the most challenging two weeks in our utility's recent history," said Gaetan Thomas, chief executive officer and president of NB Power. "Our customers showed incredible heart and persistence in supporting the work of our crews as they worked to clear and repair damaged lines throughout Christmas and New Year's. Our customers brought hot meals and coffee to crews despite not having electricity in their own homes. We are humbled by their actions and grateful for their patience and support."
At the peak of restoration, about 264 crews were in the field working to reconnect customers.
The New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization (NBEMO) encouraged people to check on their neighbours, especially anyone who might be vulnerable. The NBEMO coordinated the distribution of supplies such as water, firewood, kerosene and other necessities for delivery to the Canadian Red Cross and community run shelters and warming centres, including those at the Oak Bay Fire Department and Magaguadavic Place in St. George.
Patty Pike of St. Stephen says Christmas really became a community event this year due to people outside the town center losing electricity for several days to a week. "My son and wife stayed here, and my mother-in-law," she says of her own situation. "I know a lot of other people who invited guests into their home. One had 28 people."
Carmen's Diner served a free breakfast and turkey dinner to utility linemen on Christmas, and Pike says, "McNay's [White House] corner stop fed people free on Christmas Day, and fire halls opened up so people could get warmed up and cook something."
"It was a different type of Christmas," sums up Pike.
Anyone running low on supplies such as firewood and kerosene should call the NBEMO at 1-800-561-4034. In addition, NB Power customers who are using an alternative heat source should take care to ensure it is properly vented and being operated according to the manufacturer's instructions. Customers with questions about their own situation can call the customer care line at 1-800-663-6272.
Residents of New Brunswick are reminded to have everything they need for at least 72 hours following a storm. That includes preparing an emergency kit for home and car; knowing what to do during power outages; and knowing how to stay safe during an emergency.